What is a Lift in Volleyball?

If you’re a casual volleyball player who watches the sport on TV, you’ll notice that players sometimes get penalized for infractions that aren’t part of the casual game. Lifting is one of these – the professional game happens so fast that it seems amazing players are committing a foul at all.

However, at the highest level, lifting can give a team or player an unfair advantage over the opposition. Learn about what is lifting in volleyball, how to avoid it, and what penalty it carries with our guide.

Volleyball Lift Definition

A volleyball lift is when the ball remains in continuous contact with a player for too long. All moves should be virtually instant – from the moment the ball touches the skin, the player should be in the motion of offloading it as a shot.

Shaping to make a shot (where the ball is still moving towards the player and the player is changing their arm position) is perfectly legal. However, once the ball is touching the skin, it becomes a lift. This means that force has been taken out of the ball, giving the player an unfair advantage when shaping to distribute or make a shot.

Lifting can occur during any move, although it’s most common during passing and setting. Here’s how it happens in each case.

Passing Lift

When you’re looking to make a pass, your arms should be straight with a minimal inward curve at the elbows. You should be aiming to receive the ball around your wrists – not higher up. Even if the ball comes to you higher up (around the elbows), you should be looking to offset it quickly and not “control” it using your arms.

If the ball remains for more than a moment on the arms during a pass, it can be penalized by a point being awarded to the other team. Players can remove force from the ball by “guiding” it using their arms, especially if their elbows are crooked. This lets them shape their pass almost as a standing throw.

It’s an unfair advantage and interrupts the flow of play; while it’s not quite the equivalent of grabbing and holding the ball, the principle is the same. The ball should always be in motion away from players.

Setting Lift

The other most common type of lift in volleyball is when setting the ball. This one can be more subtle – a set is designed to remove some force from the ball, getting it ready for a teammate to make a powerful, accurate hit.

However, the motion required to set the ball still only requires instantaneous contact. The player can take the force out of the ball by moving their hands before contact occurs; setting while moving your hands in the same direction as the ball’s travel direction will reduce its momentum. This is acceptable play.

A setting lift is when a player lets the rest on their hands for slightly too long. Again, this means that they’re almost holding the ball and have too much time to shape up the next player’s move. It takes the skill out of an ultra-fast setting and can be penalized with a point awarded to the other team.

Setting lifts are more difficult to identify to an amateur eye than most. Professional volleyball referees need to make snap calls in an instant to judge whether a player has lifted when making a set play.

Hitting/Spiking Lift

A hitting or spiking lift is somewhat uncommon because spiking the ball is an aggressive play that almost always requires a short, sharp contact with the ball. However, part of the skill of defending against a spike is gauging where the ball is likely to travel.

A player can try to get around this by keeping a hand on the volleyball a moment too long. This can significantly change the direction of the spike and wrong foot the defending team. While deception is an important part of spiking, guiding the ball by lifting is not acceptable and will be penalized with a point to the opposing team.

Illegal Set In Volleyball

Lifting is a common type of illegal set move. It’s less common than the double touch, where a player uses one hand to touch the volleyball before using the other to set it. This can create spin and give the player an unfair advantage.

To avoid making an illegal set by lifting, work on shaping for your move while rising to make the set. Your touch should be momentary – never let the ball linger.

What is a Tip in Volleyball?

Tipping is where a player uses a part of the hand other than the palm to make a move – usually an open hand or their knuckles. Tipping is a legal move but requires some skill to pull off properly. Many players aiming to tip inadvertently make a lift play and get penalized.

What is a Lift in Beach Volleyball?

Lifting is illegal in all forms of volleyball. Beach volleyball allows some maneuvers that aren’t permitted in indoor volleyball – however, lifting is easier to pull off in beach volleyball because the game is lighter and slower. Beach volleyball referees, therefore, keep a careful eye out for passing and setting lifts as well as spiking lifts.

What is a Carry in Volleyball?

Lifting and carrying are treated the same way in volleyball. However, there’s a technical difference in the way the foul is played:

  • Lifting tends to have more of an upward direction – it’s arguably more common when setting the ball than carrying.
  • Carrying tends to move sideways and might be more of a “scoop” than lifting. Carrying is perhaps more common when passing the ball along or defending a spike.

Each play is penalized with a point awarded to the opposing side, and you’ll often hear the terms used interchangeably. It’s quite rare for a referee to distinguish between the two during a game, as they’re both considered forms of “catching”.

Illegal Hit in Volleyball

An illegal hit is any of the following:

  • Lifting or carrying the ball
  • Hitting with the hands apart
  • Slapping the ball
  • Directing the volleyball (this can be part of lifting)
  • Palming the ball

You’ll learn good hand and arm posture for each move when you train with a team. Even if you play casually, it’s important to retain good form – you never know when you’ll come up against a stickler for the rules in what seemed like a friendly game of beach volleyball!

What is Double Contact in Volleyball?

Double contact is the most common type of foul move. It means that the ball touches a player more than once – this usually means that the ball hits both the player’s hands separately.

Double contact is forbidden in beach and indoor volleyball, even accidentally. If the ball touches your hand, you need a teammate to dive in and keep it alive. This is why good communication is what makes a great team!

Lifting in Volleyball: Summary

The best way to avoid lifting in volleyball is to work on your hand shape and think on your feet. Most lifts in the amateur game are accidental – it shouldn’t always be viewed as an attempt to cheat. However, it’s illegal in all versions of the game, and you don’t want to find yourself lifting by accident – get practicing!